Revision and examinations
Revision and examinations

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Revision and examinations

3.6 Memory and Understanding

Memory and understanding

Exams are rarely tests of memory, but much more to do with the selection, presentation and interpretation of materials. When you have understood what you have read, you can think about it and use it. Nonetheless, you may still be concerned about your ability to remember the information you are revising in a way that will allow you to use it in an exam. Understanding the way you prefer to learn can prove to be very helpful in helping you with this.

Look at these two groups of statements. Do you feel more in tune with one set or the other?

  1. I like to get everything sorted before I start.
    • I don’t have any trouble remembering numbers and codes.
    • I tend to make lists to organise materials.
    • I prefer to write things down.
  2. I can often follow a map more easily than written instructions.
    • Sometimes my best ideas come in quite unexpected ways.
    • I tend to have a good ‘feel’ for what I am doing, but it doesn’t look very organised.

The List 1 represents some of the feelings that are associated with the logical, sequential, left side of the brain. List 2 includes some of the more intuitive, spatial, and holistic qualities that are associated with the right side of the brain. If you feel more comfortable with List 2, then you might like to try allowing yourself to study in a whole variety of ways. Some of them are described below. If you feel that List 1 describes you better, then it can still be useful to experiment with other other ways of studying. This is because the most effective learning seems to take place when both sides of the brain are engaged together.

Most of us also seem to have a preference for the way we perceive information through one or more of our senses. Look at the lists below and make a note of the suggestions that seem to be most suited to you. Try some of them out in your revision.

Visual - you tend to say: Try:
I see that designing an exciting poster or a colourful mind-map
I get the picture drawing a cartoon with facts attached to the picture
that seems clear colour-coding different categories of information
Aural - you tend to say: Try:
that sounds great repeating out loud as you read / revise
I hear what you’re saying turning facts into a rhyme or rap
that strikes a chord making a tape of information
Kinaesthetic - you tend to say: Try:
that feels right walking around reciting the points you want to learn out loud
it slipped my mind making any drawings as large as possible so you feel the word as you write it
let’s start from scratch making gestures as you speak or read

Whatever technique you use, the key is to make something memorable by exaggeration, by association, by colour, or by humour - creating a vivid picture, sound or feeling.

Finally, practise reviewing information. You remember best the information received at the beginning and end of a learning session. So, you learn more in a 60-minute learning session if you take two breaks, because you have three beginnings and three endings, so less is forgotten. When you take each break, quickly review the key points. Review them again one hour, one day, two days later. The reviewing is vital to reinforce the memory links.

Try out at least three new ideas taken from Section 3. Make a list of the strategies that work best for you.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus